Headline / July 2019

It All Starts with Family Values

The man better known as Boy strives to consistently implement basic values, imparted by his parents, in the corporate culture. These include respect for superiors and subordinates, courtesy, discipline and showing affection.

By Investor Daily Team

What is the secret to Garibaldi Thohir’s success? The answer is surprisingly simple: family. Yes, he became one of Indonesia’s most successful businessmen, thanks to his determination to uphold the moral values he inherited from his parents.

“Since I was little, my parents taught me discipline and to show courtesy and affection. When I grew up, I realized that this basic foundation was correct. That made me understand that life is not easy and that we must always appreciate what we have,” said the president director and chief executive of Adaro Energy, one of Indonesia’s largest coal miners.

Another value Boy instilled in the corporate culture is integrity. For him, a company can never compromise on integrity. The success or failure of any business is determined by the integrity of its management.

“I affirmed it to all my friends in the Adaro Group. Integrity is something my dad taught to all three of his children. It is integrity and credibility that make us believe in people, so never think it is negotiable,” he said.

As a businessman, Boy is a “fighter” – a hardworking one, who always tries to get ahead of his competitors. And it is not uncommon for him to work into the small hours of the morning. However, he is also not the type of businessman who puts money over everything.

“My principle is that money isn’t everything,” he said, adding that people may have lots of money, but they may also not be able to sleep peacefully at night. “So for me, it is important to maintain balance,” said Boy, who likes to collect artwork with an equestrian theme, as horses represent strength, valor, hard work and loyalty.

What about Boy’s other values and philosophies? His obsessions? Why does he believe managing a company – or even a country – is similar to managing a family?

The following is an excerpt from a recent interview:

How was your career journey?

My late father, Teddy Thohir, was a devout Muslim. But because he wanted to instill discipline in his children, he sent us to Catholic school in our junior- and middle-school years. When I went to high school, it was my first time in a public school.

After I graduated from high school, I went to the United States to study at the University of Southern California. I then continued my studies for my master’s degree at Northrop University [in California] and finally returned to Indonesia in 1991.

Back home, I told my father I wanted to work at a multinational company like Citibank or American Express. However, he shot down every company I proposed.

I was confused and asked him what he wanted. And his answer was that he wanted me to be more creative. My father wanted his children to be entrepreneurs. Long story short, I chose to do business in the property industry.

Why property?

At the time, I saw the property industry trending. Coincidentally, my mother used to prefer investing in land. I once asked her why, and she told me there had never been a time her investments in land did not increase in value.

This made me decide to enter the property industry. Although, to be honest, that’s just a fancy term, because at that time, I was just learning to become a land broker.

At the time, land brokers, known as rombongan calo tanah Indonesia, were jokingly called RCTI [the name of a local television station]. I had many ups and downs along the way while working in that business. I learned many things. I know the experience forged me [into what I have since become]. For example, clearing land isn’t an easy matter.

What is the most memorable thing you have experienced in your career?

I am not part of the second generation, because my father came from Lampung and started everything from scratch. He worked for Astra International until he became trusted and [group co-founder] Mr. William Soeryadjaya invited him to develop a business together.

So when I returned from the United States, my father had already wrestled with several businesses. However, I wasn’t interested [in joining him] and chose property. As a US graduate, I thought I had all the knowledge I needed, but in fact, I knew almost nothing about the property industry at the time. Yes, maybe only about 10 percent or 20 percent of the knowledge I had was useful.

Because, in the end, I had to learn and apply ‘in-field knowledge’ when negotiating land deals. The point is, that it is good to learn a lot, but it doesn’t have any meaning if we don’t try to learn even more. For me, it would be useless if I didn’t gain ‘in-field knowledge’ and didn’t understand local wisdom.

Where property projects have you worked on before?

One of the lands I cleared was an area in South Jakarta now known as Casablanca. Back then, the Casablanca area was still a cemetery and there were no roads like today. Well, there is now an apartment complex on part of the land I cleared back then.

In the beginning, I had an interesting experience when taking on the property business. I drove a hardtop type of vehicle from Tebet to Menteng Pulo [both in South Jakarta], in the middle of the night. I had to meet a prospective seller.

I brought along a lot of cash for the transaction. While driving, I saw something, sort of a wooden gate. So I stopped and got out of the vehicle to open the gate. The vehicle’s lights were on at the time. But when I wanted to get back into the vehicle, the door was locked. I was locked out. Uh-oh!

I was confused. It was already dark and there were no streetlamps in the area. But finally, from afar, I saw a satay seller pushing his cart along the road. As he slowly approached, I could confirm that he was indeed a vendor. In the end, that person helped me unlock the door. The moral of the story is: work hard, no matter how hard it is. True, a thousand friends are too few, but one enemy is one too many. When you are in trouble, there will always be a way out, thanks to hard work and the involvement of friends and family.

When did you enter the coal business?

In 1992, I was already involved in the coal business. At that time, I started as a local partner for an Australian company that wanted to join a coal business in Sawahlunto, West Sumatra. Through that collaboration, I acquired a 20 percent stake in the company we created together.

The reason for switching to coal?

Coincidently, the person who introduced me to the Australian company became my partner. Yes, in the beginning I also didn’t know much about coal. My knowledge was only based on the literature I had read and the fact that there was apparently a lot of coal in Indonesia. At that time, the oil and gas industry was crowded and I thought it would be hard to compete if there were already too many players. But I eventually entered the coal business. So I was given direction by God. And I followed it, although previously, I had never considered the coal industry.

When I first started the coal business, I was in a learning stage. Then, in 1998, Indonesia suffered a financial crisis. That time, I already had many businesses but no returns on my investments for five years. Instead, the land I had already cleared was claimed by my rivals. However, armed with the knowledge I had, I negotiated for land and various other things. I felt lucky at the time to have been taught by my parents to have respect and to act wisely.

So, all the blessings were taught by your parents?

My father’s life was hard; troubled. He lost his father when he was still small. Because of that, he always taught his three children to be disciplined, to love one another, and to lead by example.

When I was little, my brother Erick Thohir and I used to ride becak [cycle rickshaw] and we experienced how it feels to be cramped inside a MetroMini [small buses used for public transportation]. We also played kite, which saw us having to climb on the roof of our house. The various experiences we had together made me understand that life is not easy. Those make me appreciate life as it is now.

Well, talking about my parent’s teachings: my mother also taught me to be disciplined, to have good manners and to be diligent. Then again, my father also taught me to be a good Muslim, which means to have patience and seek wisdom. Those lessons shaped my character and those of my elder sister and my brother. We are very grateful for the foundations we received from our parents.

When I was little, my father always told me, no matter how successful someone is, he must still respect his older siblings. Because of that, I always respect my elder sister. Besides that, for me, no matter how old my brother is, yes, he is still my little brother, who I have loved for a long time.

What is your leadership style?

Like the values imparted by my parents: subordinates must respect their superiors, but superiors must also love their subordinates. In leading Adaro, I always make it clear that I don’t like leaders who think they are better than the rest.

I also tell the leaders in the Adaro Group that integrity is of utmost importance. Integrity is what my father taught his children and it became my model. People trust us because of our integrity and credibility. So never think it is negotiable.

How do you ensure integrity in the group?

If there are subordinates who don’t completely understand, or who don’t understand something at all, they can still be taught However, it is a different when it comes to integrity. For me, character and integrity are most important.

As leaders, we must set examples. What we say and what we do must be the same. I cannot pretend to be, and I admit that I am not a god. However, at least, I try to be my best. I also understand the importance of having good manners and remaining humble, so this is what I do.

Any dreams you still want to fulfill?

I always thought, before Indonesia started to become a developed country, that my siblings, my father and mother hadn’t advanced; workers, including my workers, hadn’t advanced; it meant that I could not be egoistic. Even though I might feel I have enough, what about other people?

If this question is considered too philosophical, it is actually not. Because, based on my observations, after visiting several countries, it was clear that the lives of people in underdeveloped countries and cities were also the same – unadvanced and uncomfortable. If we want this country to become developed, we should return to basics; that is number one for Adaro Energy.

Based on that, I hope employees don’t make mistakes because of their egos; neither their leaders. The problem is, if both make mistakes because of their egos, then the company will collapse. When that happens, how will we survive?

Advancement or collapse of a company, like a family, is determined by its leader. Through the implementation of the diagram strategy, if the leader is incompetent, eventually, the company will collapse. So good corporate governance is very important.

To implement good corporate governance, human resources must be correct. However, the leader must decide this. I remember the teachings of my parents; that subordinates must respect their superiors and superiors must love their subordinates. That way, we can be the best in terms of operational excellence, and God willing, we can succeed.

To further develop the business and improve deficiencies, we have agreed to make and review Adaro’s management system. I want Adaro to develop and thrive for the next 50 years, 100 years, 200 years, or even 1,000 years.

I hope Adaro can be one of the companies from Indonesia that achieve global recognition. Because of this, we began investing in coke coal mines in Australia as a first step. Then, I also want Adaro to have a strong presence in Southeast Asia.

Even though it’s still a long-term target, we want to build a power plant or acquire new coal mines in Southeast Asia. Adaro has been challenged repeatedly. In the future, I hope this company will become one of the companies to enter the Fortune Global 500.

How do you achieve success?

Sometimes, I work until late at night and only arrive home at around 1.30 a.m. or 2 a.m. I realized that if I wanted to get ahead, I would have to work harder. Harder than my competitors. How can I chase my competitors if I am only slowly running behind them?

What is your life philosophy?

My principle is that money isn’t everything. Someone may have lots of money, but he may also not be able to sleep at night. Or he may have a lot of money, but his children’s lives are a mess. So for me, it is important to maintain a balance. Despite working hard, I surely make time for family, especially for my children.

I often tell my friends or employees younger than me not to let time pass them by, because we cannot rewind time.

How do you spend time with family?

I always feel grateful for the teachings of my father and mother. Even though my two siblings and I each have our own families, we always make time over weekends to meet. I apply this same principle to my wife and children.

Therefore, if asked whether I’m satisfied with my life when it comes to family, the answer is yes. The togetherness we create in our families builds bonds. My principle is: life must be balanced.